Plain sailing for Villarreal’s Yellow Submarine


With so much of the La Liga focus this season on high flying Barcelona and an under performing Real Madrid, Villarreal will be happy to be operating under the radar.

The Yellow Submarine has enjoyed another excellent season at the top table in Spain, currently in fifth place in La Liga, and on a six-game unbeaten league run.

The highlight of their recent fine form came in the form of a 1-0 win against Real Madrid, courtesy of a brilliant late goal from midfielder Pablo Fornals.

That result flagged up what any keen watcher of La Liga this season would already have told you, that Villarreal are no longer a surprise package, but an established name in the division.

Following their promotion from the Segunda Division at the end of the 2012-13 season, Villarreal quickly adapted to the rigours of La Liga, finishing 6th, 6th, 4th and 5th respectively in the four seasons that followed.

Each season they have secured either Europa League or Champions League qualification, as their stock has risen, but their success this season is arguably even greater due to the summer upheaval they had to endure.

Much of Villarreal’s early La Liga success was built on the pragmatic and understated management of Marcelino Toral, who took charge at the club upon their promotion to La Liga in 2013.

He led the club for three seasons, before departing and eventually ending up at Valencia. His replacement Fran Escriba, was unable to bring such a level of stability to the club, despite finishing 5th last season.

This lack of managerial certainty was unsettling for both the club and its supporters, who had grown accustomed to Marcelino’s style during their top flight stay, and Escriba’s exit had looked to signal the start of a rocky patch for the club.

In the summer, Villarreal took the unusual step of promoting youth coach Javier Calleja to the top job, after a disappointing opening few weeks to 2017-18 for Escriba.

Despite being completely unproven at this level, Calleja has re-established some of the old swagger and fighting spirit around the club, dispelling notion that they would struggle this season.

He has also dealt with the exits of key players, including Mateo Musacchio to AC Milan and Roberto Soldado to Fenerbahce, by balancing the squad internally. He has got the best out of a veteran defence by rotating between Victor Ruiz, Daniele Bonera and Jaume Costa and increasing the influence of Fornals in midfield.

In attack he has moulded Carlos Bacca and Cedric Bakambu, reigniting confidence in the former and rebuffing big money offers for the latter and build the team to get the most from the pair.

Calleja deserves huge credit for his work this season, but the sensation is that he will be happy for his work to continue in the shade of the Spanish big guns, as he plots another top fix finish for the club.


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